KNYSNA, South Africa – With only four days left before its
opening World Cup group game, France is struggling for leadership
Coach Raymond Domenech’s team looks rudderless in comparison to
2006 when it united behind Zinedine Zidane’s inspired leadership to
reach the final.
Former captain Thierry Henry is on the bench and Patrice Evra
was only recently given the armband.
There is mounting expectation that the current crop of players
is bound to flop and winger Sidney Govou says that France will only
improve by pulling together quickly.
“We’re lacking this little something for us to be a good team,
a very good team,” Govou said Monday. “This won’t happen if we
shoot each other down, putting the blame on such and such.”
Some critics, like former France defender Marcel Desailly, are
predicting the worst for Domenech’s team.
Desailly played alongside Zidane when France won the World Cup
in 1998 and the European Championship two years later.
A decade on, he is an outspoken media pundit. In his newspaper
column for a South Africa’s Sunday Times, he drew bleak and
unfavorable comparisons with the team of four years ago. Desailly
even predicted Domenech’s team would not qualify from the group
stage. Mexico and host South Africa are also in Group A.
“In 2006, the spine of the team was Fabien Barthez, Lilian
Thuram, Patrick Vieira, Claude Makelele, Zinedine Zidane and
Thierry Henry – experienced players,” Desailly wrote. “The young
generation should be bringing enthusiasm but it’s just not
Desailly questions the wisdom of Domenech’s sudden decision to
switch from a defensive 4-2-3-1 formation to a more attacking 4-3-3
lineup only two weeks ago, suggesting it was arranged too hastily
and has confused the players.
“They are now at the end of their preparation and should be at
their best, but I’m annoyed that we still don’t have a starting
lineup and are undecided over tactics,” said Desailly, who played
116 times for France. “A team that’s going to win the World Cup
should already know these things.”
France has been regularly knocked since going out of the
European Championship two years ago without winning a match.
“I won’t say we’re used to it, but we haven’t had it easy for
two years. We’re living with it,” Govou said. “We’re getting
criticized quite a lot and it’s not easy, so we try and gain
strength from within the squad.”
Govou thinks that the virulent French fans have an unrealistic
perception of the team.
“We haven’t been brilliant on the pitch. There is a difference
between what people think the players are capable of individually
and what we do collectively,” he said. “I don’t think it’s
necessarily a good thing to listen to everything that’s been said.
It’s not always credible, it’s not always fair.”
Domenech appears to have left the team largely to its own
devices, with the players expected to find the answers.
“We don’t have any instructions, we don’t have any
restrictions,” Govou said. “We need to make this 4-3-3 system
work, so that we play as well as possible in defense or in
The new system started brightly enough when France beat Costa
Rica 2-1 two weeks ago, but France then drew 1-1 at Tunisia and
lost 1-0 against China last Friday.
“We’re obviously disappointed by our last two matches,” Govou
said. “We have problems in a collective sense, (problems) playing
collectively all the time.”
France, which opens up against Uruguay on Friday, is crying out
for a leader to step in and sort things out, but circumstances have
worked against the team.
Henry was dropped to the bench by Domenech for the three warmup
matches and therefore has been unable to rally the team on the
field, while veteran midfielder Patrick Vieira was not picked in
Henry had a poor season for Barcelona, used sparingly as a
substitute to now lack match fitness. Now that he’s been benched
and with Vieira out of the squad, Domenech had to find a captain.
Evra was chosen after his outstanding season for Manchester
Arsenal defender William Gallas had previously led France on two
occasions. As the most senior player in Domenech’s starting team
with more than 80 appearances, many expected him to receive the
captain’s armband with Henry and Vieira missing.
But Domenech had doubts over Gallas’ fitness following his
difficult recovery from a calf tear. Some French reports speculate
that Gallas is deeply unhappy with the decision, although the
player has not spoken to the media.
Desailly feels there are no longer enough influential France
“You need a team of leaders to win the World Cup,” Desailly
While some France players insist the team does have strong
leadership, they do not sound very convincing.
“Thierry (Henry) is a leader, William Gallas is a leader, Pat
Evra is (one as well) … I could name you a lot of leaders,”
France midfielder Alou Diarra said. “Franck (Ribery) is a leader
… I could name you a lot of leaders.”
Diarra’s statement merely underlines how no one truly stands out
as a natural leader, the way Zidane did in 2006.
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